Legacy Series: Tom Wilson



Last September the world of Cartooning lost one of its greats. Tom Wilson was indeed a legend. His single panel strip “ZIGGY” could say so much with so little space. And although it’s been since 1987, when he handed the reigns over to his son Tom Wilson Jr., the affects of senior’s efforts will continue to live on in so many syndicated papers.

Thomas Albert Wilson (August 1, 1931 – September 16, 2011), better known as Tom Wilson, was an American cartoonist. Wilson was the creator of the comic strip Ziggy, which he drew from 1971 to 1987. The strip was then continued by his son, Tom Wilson, Jr.

Wilson served in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1955. He attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, graduating in 1955.He was a Cooper Union art instructor from 1961 to 1962.

Wilson’s career began in 1950, doing advertisement layouts for Uniontown Newspapers, Inc. In 1955, he joined American Greetings (AG) as a designer, becoming Creative Director in 1957 and vice-president of creative development in 1978.While at AG he developed the Soft Touch greeting card line.He also served as president of Those Characters From Cleveland, AG’s character licensing subsidiary.




The Ziggy comics panel, syn­di­cated by Universal Uclick (for­merly Univer­sal Press Syn­di­cate), launched in 15 news­pa­pers in June 1971. It expanded to appear in more than 500 daily and Sun­day news­pa­pers and has been fea­tured in bestselling books and cal­en­dars. Ziggy merchandising has included plaques, T-shirts, buttons, glass tumblers, lunch boxes, coffee mugs and greet­ing cards. In 2002, Ziggy became the official spokescharacter for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Through­out his career, Wil­son demon­strated a remark­able abil­ity to anticipate future trends in the mar­ket­place. A vet­eran of the licens­ing busi­ness, Wil­son headed up the cre­ative team that devel­oped such char­ac­ter licens­ing block­busters as Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears.

Ziggy first appeared in the 1969 collection When You’re Not Around, published by American Greetings. The newspaper strip began in June 1971. In 1987 the strip was taken over by Tom Wilson II.

The animated 1982 Christmas television special Ziggy’s Gift, which contained the Harry Nilsson song “Give, Love, Joy”, won an Emmy Award.

There are annual calendars produced as well as various books and promotional items.

Tom Wilson has acknowledged that one in five Ziggy cartoons makes direct reference to the mathematical concept of the Axiom of choice. In his 2009 autobiography, Wilson stated that this recurrent theme is “my own unique way of expressing my love for mathematical analysis. Cartooning has been a career for me, but math was always my passion.”

In 1987, Wil­son passed the Ziggy torch to his son, Tom Wil­son Jr., after the younger Wil­son had served as an assis­tant on the strip for many years.Even though Tom Sr. lived in Cleveland and Tom Jr. lived in Cincinnati, the two worked as a team, collaborating by fax and phone.

Wilson was a talented painter with works appearing in exhibitions throughout the United States, including the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Society of Illustrators annual show in New York.

He made his mark in animation with the 1982 Emmy Award-winning Christmas special, Ziggy’s Gift, which was released on VHS video in 2002 and DVD in 2005.

He received the Purchase award in the Butler Institute of American Art‘s annual exhibition.

Wilson was a survivor of lung cancer. He died in his sleep on the night of September 16, 2011 of pneu­mo­nia at a Cincin­nati hos­pi­tal. He was 80.




1 thought on “Legacy Series: Tom Wilson

  1. An excellent addition to the Legacy series! I’ve read a few of the Ziggy strips. And its fantastic to know of its history!

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